In our last article from the ‘How To Increase Your Strength’ series, presented by Damien Delahaye, a French powerlifter and trainer, we had unwrapped the third of the big lifts, the deadlift, and drilled down through its proper technique. I hope that the article helped you either improve your deadlift or at the very minimum boosted your confidence to start including this exercise in your workouts.
Now 0nce you’re comfortable enough with your deadlift technique, you might start wanting to add more weight to your bar. The awesome thing with deadlifts is that once you get your form right you can quickly start piling up weight, which is obviously very motivating for beginners.
Subject to proper and regular training, you should be able to manage around 140 to 180kg for max repetitions within a matter of a few months. However, going beyond this weight range, particularly the 200kg wall, will require a more specific training strategy and a focused effort from your side.
My own experience tells me that once you’ve reached a certain level in powerlifting, it is very hard to progress the 3 lifts (benchpress, squat, deadlift) concurrently. Each of these lifts requires a lot of individual energy and focus, meaning it is virtually impossible to target all 3 at the same time. As an example, when I chase bigger numbers in squats, my bench press and deadlift automatically suffer. To this effect, once I reach my goal weight I then seek to simply maintain (rather than improve) my squat level in this case, while refocusing on bench press or deadlift.
Speaking of which, the aim of today’s article is sharing with you a few tips for breaking your deadlift record. All you have to do is familiarise with these tips and apply them wisely to your training routine. Do not try implementing all of the below at the same time, rather pick one which appeals to you and work on it before turning your focus onto another tip.
There are numerous ways of how you can break your deadlift record. The following are my preferred ones:
1) Strengthen your ‘deadlift’ muscles:
i) Reinforce your grip – it is very annoying to have to cut your set early due to your grip giving in too quickly, soon after the first few repetitions. If you are a beginner, try to train without powerlifting bands so that your grip gradually strengthens as you progress upwards in the lift.
There are a few exercises which help improve your grip. My favorite method requires holding the barbell in your hands while in a standing position. Slowly open your hands and let the bar roll onto your fingers until the very end, at which point you grab the bar back and close your hands. Perform this for a few times and the job is done. Alternatively, you can hold a heavy bar in standing position to failure.
Do not commit my mistake in starting to use powerlifting bands too early. In fact nowadays I cannot perform heavy deadlifts without them (sad isn’t it?). My tip would hence be to avoid using bands until when you are trying to beat your personal record or improve maximum reps.
ii) Reinforce your trapezium or traps – hit your traps with shrugs. Strong traps will come in very handy in your deadlift apart from enhancing your back aesthetically.
iii) Reinforce your lower back – a strong lower back is key to performing a solid deadlift. When deadlifting your lower back is put under tremendous pressure. Strengthening your lower back will unlock more power but more importantly, it will allow you a safer and healthier lift.
If i have to pick one exercise for strengthening your lower back, I would choose “Good Mornings” as shown in the illustration below.
iv) Reinforce your hamstrings and glutes – many people skip their hamstrings. This is a grave mistake. Working out only your quadriceps will obviously create a front-rear leg imbalance which will lead to several repercussions such as bad posture, lower back pain and also weaker lifts. You can improve your hamstring strength through focused exercises such as leg curls, swiss ball hamstring curls (double or single-leg) and straight-leg deadlifts. I personally like to perform the latter exercise as a warmup before the conventional deadlift.
2) Train using different deadlift variations:
i) Deadlifts with added chains or resistance bands – these and other similar tools will help you improve your explosivity which is key in heavy lifts. Adding chains or resistance bands will generate progressive increased resistance as you go through your lift. The below illustraton shows how there is more chain resistance pulling you towards the ground as you move closer towards locking your lift at the top. This is particularly relevant to those whose weak point is either the start or end of the lift i.e. lifting the bar from the ground or locking the lift.
ii) Elevated deadlift – this variation allows for lifting a heavier weight as it is easier to start the lift from a higher position. Having said so this places more stress on your lower back. The benefit of this variation is that body and brain will get accustomed to moving heavier weights and eventually, once you return back to your standard deadlift weight, it will feel lighter, both physically and mentally.
iii) Deficit deadlift – this particular variation adds to the deadlift difficulty as it will require you to start from a deeper stance. In the process it will strengthen your lower back, glutes and hamstrings, all of which fire together in performing a deadlift. It is very important to note that even though this variation requires you to start deeper, you should still focus on keeping your back straight. I personally like to finish off my deadlift sessions with 2 sets of deficit deadlifts.
Depending on your deadlift flaws (e.g. problems with lifting the bar from the ground or locking out the lift at the top) pick the right variation so that you can iron out such flaws accordingly. If say you are deadlifting twice a week, you can finish your sessions with 2-3 sets of one of the above deadlift variations e.g. elevated deadlifts at the end of your first session and deficit deadlifts to finish off your second session.
Even if deadlifting is traditionally practiced at low rep ranges, do not forget to work out with a wider rep range to target building a strong base. Once you tick this off you can gradually move into performing 5×5, 3×6, and 3×3 protocols, cycled with higher reps accordingly in order to maintain your explosivity. This is due to the fact that as you further your strength and lower the rep range, you will tend to lose explosivity which will eventually lead to a plateau, or even worse a regress.
I hope that you found this powerlifting series interesting. It was a great pleasure to deliver this to you. Should you have any question in this regard do not hesitate to drop us a message here.
Many thanks Damien for such a valuable series of articles. On a personal level I have experienced a considerable improvement in my squat and deadlift (historically my weaker lifts) after applying your tips over the past months.
To fitness with love,